Tapestries: An Exploration of World Maps

Reprinted from an article directory. I couldn’t resist posting information about maps in history.

Article by: Angela Dawson-Field

People have always been curious about the world around them and the development of maps has echoed this historical fascination. Maps were once considered to be valuable objects and were treasured by their owners and regarded as works of art in their own right. These objects attracted the attention of artists as well as skilled draughtsmen and maps became quite ornate and decorative items, capturing the imagination of those who wondered what lay beyond the horizon.

Early maps tended to reflect what people knew or remembered and were largely topographical in nature. Often, these early pieces depicted myth and lore, combining to create “living maps” that were passed form generation to generation. Formalising the topography into early maps, knowledge became standardised and sowed the foundation of early cartography.

By the Middle Ages cartography had slowed in that accuracy became replaced by religious depiction through maps. Examples of strong belief can be seen in some maps where the Holy Land is shown to be at the centre of the earth. Another example is Europa Regina by Johannes Bucius which shows an early and elongated map, depicting Europe as the Queen of the World.

The Age of Seafaring during the 16th and 17th centuries saw new interest in map making, particularly the British and the Dutch taking to the seas and exploring new lands. At this time maps became increasingly artistic. An East Indies map in tropical colouring with pineapple trees and other exotic flora and fauna, designed to capture the imagination and evoke the scent of spice in the air is a typical example. As the demand for cartographers grew in the 17th century the artistic nature of maps from a purely functional item to a work of art began to evolve.

Maps were often decorated elaborately with sea creatures or mythical characters. Many of these very accomplished draughtsmen created quite unique works of art from map making. Maps designed by Petrus Plancius (1552-1622) or Abraham Ortelius (1528-1598) were frequently found embellished with intricate pictorial content. A successor to Abraham Ortelius was the Dutch cartographer Jan Baptist Vrients (1552-1612) who designed Obis Terrae Compendosia. The world is split into two hemispheres and surrounded by ornate and detailed pictorial decoration. The map brings a perception of how the world looks and a plethora of exotic creatures and landscapes from the far flung shores of the globe.

Another famous example is Nova Totius Terrarum, designed by Henricus Hondius (1597-1622), a Dutch Cartographer. This 17th century map is an ornate depiction of the world and is surrounded by detailed nautical scenes, perhaps reflecting the age and drama of exploration by sea as mythical creatures rise from the ocean and men are seen contemplating their journey.

Antique maps are increasingly popular in the modern home and make elaborate tapestries in home décor. There are a number of ways in which an antique map can add charm and elegance to the home, whether in poster, print or tapestry format and are much appreciated by connoisseurs of good taste.

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About the Author: Angela Dawson-Field writes extensively on home
decor and tapestry & textile art. The Tapestry House
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